Tuesday, 1 December 2015

NE BRAZIL: Diamantina and beyond (1-4 October 2015)

This blog is the third of five recounting a very successful trip to NE Brazil where the legendary Ciro Albano brilliantly guided Jon Hornbuckle, Rod Martins, Barry Wright and myself for the best part of three weeks.  With just three days to go I carelessly lost all my photos and am most grateful to Barry and Jon for allowing me to use theirs - most are of better quality than mine would have been.

Thursday 1st October.  We heard a Ferruginous Pygmy Owl calling outside Aguilar Pousada as we prepared to leave at 05:00.  The streetlights were just about bright enough for Rod to pick it out in a tree opposite - a good start to a much anticipated day.  We drove a short distance to a lightly wooded valley that opened up into more open country with impressive rocky outcrops of Chapada Diamantina around us. We spent several hours on a trail along the valley seeing two of the main birds of the trip for me - Hooded Visorbearer and Collared Crescentchest.  The former was a superb and interestingly named hummingbird and the later, formerly considered to be a tapaculo, a newly recognised family for me.  We also saw Grey-backed Tachuri, Rufous-winged Antshrike, Sincora Antwren, Plain-breasted Spinetail, Stripe-tailed Yellow-Finch and Pale-throated Serra Finch.  Back at the vehicle an East Brazilian Chachalaca was calling from, we thought, some distance away. We headed that way but almost immediately it, or another, flew around behind us as we were passing a patch of bushes and only Jon and Barry saw more than a shape. We had breakfast by the car and drove back through Lencois to some dry scrub past Palmeiras.  We stopped where the road followed a dry valley to the top of an escarpment to look for Sao Francisco Sparrow but none were responding – we would try again in the morning when they were more active. On the way I asked Ciro if we might see Black-throated Saltator, he said it would be no problem, which was encouraging, and five minutes later he saw one perched up by the road.  I asked Ciro about a lot of birds, many of which he found for us but none were as immediate as this.  The bird I was particularly hoping to see in the dry scrub was Horned Sungem, another nicely named hummingbird that I first became aware of in 1964 when collecting Brook Bond’s Tropical Birds picture cards.  Ciro was confident and we tried two areas.  At the first a sungem flew past Barry, did a double take and shot off.  I was less than 30m away but much too slow.  Half an hour later it or another hummingbird shot past but I didn’t get an identifiable view.  Frustrating.  We moved on to Mucure where Ciro knew a Diamantina Tapaculo territory.  He set up a speaker and we retreated and waited.  It did not take long for the bird to come creeping in to see off its rival giving us excellent views of a normally very secretive family.  We returned to the dryer scrub nearby seeing Rusty-backed Antwren, Rufous-sided Tody-Tyrant and White-banded Tanager.  We had no further luck with sungem although a White-vented Violetear raised my stress levels when first seen poorly.  We tried an area of farmland good for seedeaters seeing White-throated, White-bellied, Yellow-bellied and Cooper and spent the remainder of the day in another area of scrub where as well as White-vented Violetear a pair of Hooded Visorbearers raised and dashed my hopes of a sungem.  Hard to imagine being slightly disappointed at seeing a pair of visorbearers especially as they had been new that morning at our first stop.  That is often how foreign birding goes, see something new, enjoy it and move on to the next …  We were out to dusk and did not return to Lencois until 19:30.  It had been another brilliant day, even if I had been a bit frustrated at not seeing sungem.  We were a day ahead if schedule and doing well at Diamantina so Ciro set out a plan to head inland, as far as Goias(!!), to look for a few rarely seen species.  He was happy to drive and so we were keen to try it.  We ate another pizza in town and bought food for breakfast.  It would be a long day.
early morning at Chapada Diamantina (photo Barry)
spectacular scenery (and some spectacular birds) viewed from an easy trail (photo Barry)
photo Barry

Ciro, Jon, Rod and me waiting for Collared Crescentchest to appear, this one didn't  (photo Barry)
if anything the view improved (photo Barry)
Grey-backed Tachuri (photo Barry). A bit of poetic licence is being used here as this photo was taken the following day and is a bird I did not see.  It is such a good species and photo that I had to include it and I only saw them this morning so here it is.
male Sincora Antwren (photo Jon)
male Sincora Antwren (photo Barry)
female Sincora Antwren (photo Jon)
female Sincora Antwren (photo Barry)
antwren and crescentchest habitat (photo Barry)
Collared Crescentchest, a stunning bird (photo Barry)
in a stunning area (photo Barry)
hummingbird food (photo Barry)
Hooded Visorbearer (photo Barry)
brilliant colours on the throat when they caught the light (photo Jon)

the tail was a bit special too (photo Jon)

further up the trail it started to open out (photo Barry)
Stripe-tailed Yellow-Finch (photo Barry)
photographing Pale-throated Serra-Finch (photo Barry)
Pale-throated Serra-Finch (photo Jon)
Pale-throated Serra-Finch (photo Jon)
Pale-throated Serra-Finch (photo Barry)
photo Barry
photo Barry
photo Barry

Rod (photo Barry)
photo Barry

photo Barry
heading back (photo Barry)
photo Barry
photo Barry
photo Barry
we crossed a very clear river before returning to the car (photo Barry)
Black-throated Saltator (photo Jon)
Red-cowled Cardinal (photo Barry)
Palmeiras (photo Barry)
Planalto Slaty Antshrike (photo Barry)
Scarlet-throated Tanager (photo Jon)
Scarlet-throated Tanager (photo Jon)
tapaculo site near Mucuge (photo Barry)
Diamantina Tapaculo (photo Barry)
Chapada Dimantina from Mucuge (photo Barry)
me photographing White-banded Tanager (photo Barry)
White-banded Tanager (photo Barry)
Horned Sungem habitat at Mucuge (photo Barry)
more sungem habitat, they were just very thinly scattered (photo Barry)
agricultural land near Mucuge (photo Barry)
Cliff Flycatcher there was a bit unexpected (photo Barry)
White-throated Seedeater (photo Barry)
Chalk-browed Mockingbird (photo Barry)
White-headed Marsh-Tyrant (photo Barry)
Mucuge (photo Barry)
looking for seedeaters (photo Barry)
photo Barry
more sungem habitat (photo Barry)
sunset on another brilliant day (photo Barry)
Friday 2nd October.  We left Lencois at 04:30 and drove to the Sao Francisco Sparrow site beyond Palmeiras where we arrived at 05:45.  We tried a couple of sections of the escarpment road without success before parking near the top and walking back down.  After about an hour of searching Rod had a glimpse of something interesting but it slipped away.  We continued in a rather spread-out fashion with Ciro some way ahead when he heard a sparrow.  We had superb views although Jon was having trouble with his camera which he thought it was terminal. Ciro, Barry and I started back, keen to get on as I was hoping to see Horned Sungem and we still had a long way to drive and expecting Jon and Rod to be following.  They weren’t and we were back at the car for 20 minutes before they appeared, Jon rather annoyed that we’d left. His camera problem had been a full card which he had cleared but without Ciro’s recording the Sao Francisco Sparrow was not performing anymore.  After a brief argument we returned and encouraged the sparrow to give even better views.  We then moved on to one of the sungem sites where again a White-vented Violetear caused a moment of hope.  We saw a Crab-eating Fox by the road and wondered how close the nearest crabs were.  We tried two other areas nearby, having breakfast and seeing White-rumped and Lowland Hepatic Tanagers and more Collared Crescentchests (me only one poorly) but at 08:45 it was time to leave. Ciro was confident we would see Horned Sungem but my nerves were finding it hard to take with false alarms most times we tried.  It was a long drive through flat uninteresting country crossing vast dustbowl type farms with threatening grey clouds on the horizon. The roads were thankfully quiet with mostly big agricultural lorries and we made excellent progress. There was little to stop for other than petrol and snacks with a flock of at least 16 Campo Troupials feeding on rotting fruit in one car park.  Ciro had been in contact with a birding friend, Luis, who had agreed to show us some of his local sites and we met him on the edge of Sao Desiderio when we arrived at 16:00.  We immediately followed him to a nearby area of dry woodland where we stayed until dusk.  Few of the trees had leaves on and it felt very much like early spring.  We saw Short-billed Tinamou (found by Rod after we had all walked past it), Blue-crowned Trogon, a distant Moustached Woodcreeper (well spotted Barry), Caatinga Black-Tyrant and Ash-throated Casiornis.  Walking back 2 short-tailed Nighthawks bombed us and we heard Tropical screech-Owl.  Luis took us to a hotel in town (the name of which I did not note), not the best we had stayed in but perfectly adequate, and a nearby restaurant where we had pizza.
I'd never really rated greenlets by Grey-eyed was superb as is this photo of Barry's
Little Woodpecker (photo Barry)
Yellow-breasted Flycatcher (photo Barry)
Spotted Piculet (photo Barry)
Sao Francisco Sparrow (photo Jon)
Sao Francisco Sparrow (photo Jon)
Sao Francisco Sparrow (photo Barry)
sungem habitat at Mucuge (photo Barry)
Mucuge (photo Barry)
White-rumped Tanager (photo Jon)
an impressive species I wasn't expecting to see (photo Jon)
White-rumped Tanagers (photo Barry)
breakfast (photo Barry)
even a view like the rear bird would have done me after another fruitless session
Campo Troupials (photo Jon)
Campo Troupial (photo Barry)
Large-billed Tern over roadside pools somewhere in eastern Bahia (photo Barry)
our local guide Luis leading from the rear, Sao Desiderio (photo Barry)
Sao Desiderio (photo Barry)
male Caatinga Black-Tyrant (photo Barry)
male Caatinga Black-Tyrant (photo Barry)
Small-billed Tinamou (photo Barry)
Luis (photo Barry)
the leaves on the trees made it feel like very early spring (photo Barry)
Luis taping (photo Barry)
dry forest at Sao Desiderio (photo Barry)
Luis (photo Barry)
Ash-throated Casiornis (photo Barry)
Saturday 3rd October.  We left our hotel at 05:30 after an early breakfast and followed Luis to a different area of dry forest.  It was brilliantly spring-like with lots of song and activity.  Here a very responsive Peasant Cuckoo was the star bird, and something I had hoped to see for years but never really expected to.  Ciro had heard from Luis that one had arrived in the area recently and it was the chance of seeing it that for me was the biggest draw of our long trip inland.  I was not disappointed, other than to later lose the photos I took of it!  We also saw Ornate Hawk-Eagle, Rusty-breasted Nunlet, Caatinga Puffbird, Ochre-backed Woodpecker, Moustached (much better views) and Wagler’s Woodcreepers (a potential split from Scaled) and Sibilant Syristes.  We said our goodbyes to Luis, quite a character and the only other birder we met in Brazil, and continued southwest to an area of cerrado near Sao Domingo on the border with Goias.  Horned Sungem was possible here but we tried three different areas without any success, just lots of hummingbird sized locusts that had me going each time one flew.  We were more fortunate with Chapada and Suiriri Flycatchers and also saw Red & Green Macaw and Checkered Woodpecker.  We heard a reasonably close Red-legged Seriema and headed in its direction but the cerrado was rather thick and it slipped away unseen.  We continued down into Goias and a wide river valley where the small reserve at Terra Ronca was a good area to see the very restricted Pfrimer’s Parakeet - they roosted in caves in the red cliffs for which the area was notable and fed nearby during the day.  This proved to be the case with a flock of about 40 feeding in a fruiting tree right by the warden’s hut!  At least one Jandaya Parakeet was feeding with them and a Rufous Casiornis was nearby.  Still against the clock we returned to the car and drove back to the cerrado where, at what seemed like the tenth attempt and after a total of five hours of looking, Ciro heard a Horned Sungem which we quickly tracked down.  It was a female and if I’m honest a bit dull but it gave excellent views and was very much appreciated.  My nerves could finally take a break!  We continued west but were too far away to reach a Bahia Nighthawk site by the Rio Sao Francisco by dusk.  It is debatable if we would have even if we had seen the sungem at the first attempt.  We drove as far as Corrientina arriving at Pousada dos Sonhas at 19:30. 
birding at Sao Desiderio (photo Barry)
Ochre-faced Tody-Flycatcher (absolutely superb photo by Barry)
Wagler's Woodcreeper (photo Barry)
Moustached Woodcreeper (photo Barry)
Creamy-bellied Thrush (photo Jon)
Pheasant Cuckoo (photo Jon)
Pheasant Cuckoo (photo Jon)
Pheasant Cuckoo (photo Barry).  It was one of many 'bird of the trip' contenders for me.
Ochre-backed Woodpecker. Jon stalked this bird which clearly paid off.
Rusty-breasted Nunlet, one of two that were quite distant (photo Barry)
dry forest at Sao Desiderio (photo Barry)
group photo at Sao Desiderio - Luis, Ciro, Rod, Jon, me and Barry (photo Barry)
Chapada Flycatcher (photo Barry)
it had an impressive tail pattern when spread (photo Barry)
one of many locusts pretending to be hummingbirds in the cerrado near Sao Domingos (photo Barry) 
White-banded Tanager (photo Barry)
Terra Ronca warden's house (photo Barry)
Pfrimer's Parakeet (photo Jon)
Pfrimer's Parakeet feeding frenzy (photo Jon)
where is everyone? (photo Jon)
Pfrimer's Parakeet (photo Barry)
Jandaya Parakeet (photo Barry)
leaving Terra Ronca (photo Barry)
ice-cream stop somewhat soured by my just discovering I had broken my digiscoping camera (photo Barry)
it had been a brilliant servant that deserved better than being hastily put in a pocket and forgotten when I jumped into the car
Horned Sungem (photo Jon)
Horned Sungem (photo Jon)
Horned Sungem (photo Barry)
happy at last (photo Barry)
Rufous-sided Pygmy-Tyrant (photo Barry)
Sunday 4th October.  With another long drive ahead, we left at 04:25, somewhat delayed.  We drove southeast for almost four hours to an area of dry forest about 5km S of Breginho das Amethistas.  It was a good site for Minas Gerias Tyrannulet and an excellent area and an hour and a half we saw the tyrannulet, Grey-breasted Sabrewing, Ochre-backed Woodpecker, Red-billed Scythebill, Silvery-cheeked Antshrike, Great Xenops (as impressive as ever), Helmeted Manakin and Tawny-crowned Pygmy-Tyrant.  It was then a long drive of over five hours east to Boa Nova.  We stopped for petrol and lunch where one paid by weight although I wandered off seeing a pair of Rufous Horneros building a nest behind the garage sign.  We arrived in Boa Nova at 15:00 and checked into the Pousada dos Passaros. 
breakfast on the move (photo Barry)
Breginho das Amithistas (photo Barry)

Red-billed Scythebill (photo Jon)
Red-billed Scythebill (photo Barry)
Campo Troupial (photo Jon)
Ochre-backed Woodpecker (photo Barry)

Burnished-Buff Tanager (photo Jon)
Minas Gerais Tyrannulet (photo Barry)
Boa Nova (photo Barry)